Making the home a place where homework gets completed

"These suggestions are a starting point to not only increase homework completion, but to increase learning."

School children 521 (photo credit: Illustrative photo: Marc Israel Sellem)
School children 521
(photo credit: Illustrative photo: Marc Israel Sellem)
Last month I wrote about how schools can change the way they give homework, by becoming more consistent, providing choices and listening to parents. It was wonderful to hear from so many teachers who actually tried these ideas and told me of their successes.
However, changing school procedure is only half the story. Conditions at home can also have a powerful effect on whether or not homework gets done. We all know that the main resistance when it comes to doing something we’d rather not do is mostly simply in getting started. Once we start, we usually finish or at least get most of it done. Think of any project around the house, from doing dishes to organizing a closet. It is so hard to start, but once we get going, we usually finish. That’s why the following suggestions are designed to set maximum conditions for your child starting his homework.
Set up a homework area. This ideally is a well-lit, comfortable space with a desk or table outside the flow of traffic. Allow minimal snacking. Some fruit, a glass of milk or juice might be all that’s needed. Avoid sugary sweets like candy that make it harder to concentrate.
Minimize distractions. Do not allow other family members in the area during homework time. For most students, the television should be off or out of sight and earshot. If friends call or visit, they should be told the child is not available at this time and tell them when they can return the call or visit. Music is okay if the child works better when listening.
Set a regular time. Homework works best when it begins the same time every night, but for many homes that is not possible. In that case try for the same time each Monday, Tuesday, etc. Require the student to sit at the work area for the amount of time required for the homework. For example, if there is an hour’s worth of homework, the child sits for an hour. This requires some communication between the teachers and parent to know the approximate time required for homework. Since the same amount of homework requires different lengths of time for different children, the better you know your child, the more accurately you can determine the length of time to sit.
Parents need not insist the child do any work, just sit for the determined time with the school materials and proper supplies. This strategy works on two levels. First, most kids would rather do anything than nothing; homework is better than boredom. Second, as I have previously noted, doing homework is not the biggest problem, starting it is. Once a child begins, he is likely to continue unless there is a learning or clarity problem.
These conditions maximize the odds that a child will get in the habit of doing homework on a regular basis. For those children who do not have a home or parent supervision to establish this pattern, setting up homework study groups with three or four children at a home with a volunteer parent who can set these conditions is a wonderful substitute. If that’s not possible, perhaps the school can establish homework study clubs after school or during the day with the help of willing teachers or elderly volunteers. This works best when students choose to attend, rather than be required.
These suggestions are a starting point to not only increase homework completion, but to increase learning. It can also help if you recall how hard it was for your parents to get you to your homework. Remembering your homework issues can provide you valuable insight for motivating your own children.
The most important tool is still good communication between parents and teachers. Talk to your children’s teachers without being defensive, angry or fearful. Understand that your teacher wants the same as you do; for your child to learn. Once you understand that the teacher and you have the same goal, and you respect the teacher’s professionalism, all other problems can be resolved.
The author is a veteran educator.